It’s neither magic nor mystery. Confidence, properly understood, is a strength of character. It’s not inborn, it’s cultivated in the person within a social context. The first context is one’s family of origin. It’s further developed as life expands outside the home to school and the workplace. And then ultimately, it’s cultivated within the intimate dynamics of a healthy and adaptive couple’s relationship.
As virtue, confidence involves both inner feelings and outer expressions of sympathy, empathy, humility, authenticity, and moral truth. These are social and emotional sensitivities and sensibilities that attune us to others and to our direct experience. Perhaps you wonder about the meaning of “moral truth” in this context. How does truth fit or apply in the context of other more affective terms?
The truth I have in mind when I speak of moral truth is the felt truth through which we know and affirm values. It’s an intuitive way of knowing without which we would not be fully human. It’s the quiet center of an equanimous mind that is able to recognize what is good, right, proper, and appropriate. It helps us separate the wheat from the chaff in discursive reasoning.
Strictly rational-logical thought is not sufficient for producing the quality of reasonableness we associate with wisdom and good judgment. So, the confidence I am addressing, runs deeper than the confidence I have in my technical skills (intellectual, social, or physical). We might better differentiate that meaning of confidence as competence, even a certain kind of self-efficacy.
Confidence as Moral Substrate
In a committed couple’s relationship, what are we committed to? Of course, it’s the bond, the special “we” that we claim to be. We are committed to a relationship of care, mutual concern, and love. Care is an act. Mutual concern is an attitude. Love is a kind of self-surrender, or as Frost put it, “less than two but more than one.” Intimacy then is the art of preserving this attention to the two and the one.
And what makes this discussion specific to professional couples? It’s not that these themes are exclusively relevant to them. They’re equally if differently relevant for all couples. The specific relevance for professional couples is perhaps more due to my experience, which is mostly with professionals.
In brief, confidence for in professional couple is distinctive in the occasions that call for its proper expression. It’s when I assert my aspirational energies of becoming (ambitions) while keeping fidelity to my duties of care for my partner and the life we share. For love to be abiding, it requires acts of care.
For acts of care to be sufficient and appropriate they must be informed by a mindful state of mutual concern. These kinds of concern must bear the mark of the goals and ways of being that normatively define the life we share. And these considerations become complicated in the course of pursuing our careers and living our lives as professionals and as a family.
Confidence, as a moral substrate, is the sense of assuredness we have that our roles, goals, and ways of being are healthy and adaptive – i.e., they are working for both and for all of us. When this confidence is shaken, we’ll know it first through our feelings: “Life is feeling too difficult, stressful, imbalanced.” Minor perturbations, of course, are natural. But when the troubled feelings persist and begin dividing us, we lose confidence. But when we face our situation and work through it, we regain confidence.
Confidence is Moral, Not Moralistic
Being moralistic toward one another is being too ready to judge one another. It’s a negative judgment about the person, whereas being moral about our issues is to invoke a values-based mindset and an attitude of reflection. From this attitude, we first seek to notice the felt sources of pain, strain, and loss. We treat these noticed feelings (observations) as data that help us trace a path to the causes of pain. We see, in this way, paired with the issues, the opportunities for adaptive change.
It can be particularly important to notice our individual fears and insecurities, the things we grasp most tightly for fear of losing. These feelings can grow as we become divided by changing circumstances and as we fail to check our alignment through the intimate dialogue that reinvigorates mutual concern. In this context, moral is the antithesis of moralistic. Moral is suspending the aggressive-defensive impulses that cause moralistic judgment. It’s the openness in our hearts for noticing what, not whom, is lacking.